Uganda: Gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable NP

 

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This was an exciting day, it is not often that one gets a chance to see Mountain Gorillas! After breakfast we drove the half mile to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park headquarters at Buhoma for our pre-trek briefing.

Following our orientation, we were assigned the Rushegera group and the charasmatic Omac as our guide. 16 individual gorillas make up this group including a 17 year old silverback, four male blackbacks and three females with babies.

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Assisting our group of eight were five trackers, two armed security and porters. Over the last few weeks the Rushegera group has been the closest to the headquarters of the three habituated gorilla groups. Omac led us behind the headquarters and down a muddy path to the river trail. He told us that the gorillas had been on the other side of the river and up the slope, a prospect that looked daunting. With the exception of the short grass trail, the remainder of the forest lives up to its name. Omac stopped to show us the favoured plants the gorillas eat (above) and explained that when they get sick they eat oily ginger to help them recover.

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We had been walking for no more than 15 minutes when Omac stopped us and said the gorillas were in front! On the trail we could see the silverback walking on his front knuckles along the open path before he ventured into the forest. He was followed by a mother with her baby hanging on her belly. Then two more gorillas appeared, with all three choosing to sit along the trail and begin to feed. Meanwhile the silverback, joined by other members of the group, continued walking through the forest. It was remarkable how close we were to these gentle giants.

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We were able to follow a few of them till they stopped to feed. Without a care in the world we watched  the silverback feeding on blatezia stalks (above), breaking them with ease and biting the outer layer off to get at the heart of the stem. Sitting in one place he would grab every large stalk, one at a time, that was within reach without having to move. Several young females could be seen up trees covered in vines as a mother rested allowing her baby to climb over her and get experience climbing a skinny trunk.

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At one point these six were joined by other members included two females with babies. They came up behind us and walked between our group brushing up against a couple of us! Everything happened so quickly and with the forest being so thick there was little we could do to get out of the way, but it did not faze them. The group then spread out to feed which enabled us to split us and study whichever ones we wanted. Quite a luxury!

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There was a wonderful moment as we watched a 3 month old on her mothers back learning to groom its mother by watching her groom another of the groups females.

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As a finale Omac took us back to watch the silverback with his four females and their young at rest. It was most entertaining watching the youngsters enjoying play time, much to the dismay of at least one controlling mother who kept grabbing her baby and pulling it close to her. With our allotted hour passing by quickly we were extremely lucky to have had such an extraordinary encounter, mostly in full view of the gorillas, with all kinds of activity and interactions amongst them.

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